Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

From Friction, Heat: Kroetsch, Spanos, and Boundary 2

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

From Friction, Heat: Kroetsch, Spanos, and Boundary 2

Article excerpt

There are no truths, only correspondences. --Robert Kroetsch, Badlands

In 1972, boundary 2 became the first North American journal of postmodern literature. Canadian poet, novelist, and critic Robert Kroetsch founded the journal with American critic and philosopher William Spanos while both men served as English professors at SUNY Binghamton. Today, under long-time editor Paul Bove, boundary 2 continues to pursue ideas that evolve or devolve from the increasingly defined intellectual tradition of postmodernism--although the subtitle "an international journal of literature and culture" replaced the original subtitle, "an international journal of postmodern literature." boundary 2's inaugural volume relied on the editors' uncertainty about the meaning or purpose of postmodernism; subsequent volumes sustained that uncertainty, establishing it as a positive force upon which further inquiries might productively rest. Variable standards regulating the intellectual project were thrust into flux by the seeming opposition of the editors' literary visions. These thinkers' critical and creative perspectives, bridged incompletely by their collaboration, made the journal a more inclusive platform for writers than either editor may have individually granted. However, I do not treat Kroetsch and Spanos as binary figures in this intramural history of the journal's beginnings. Rather, I seek to locate the boundary between their approaches to literature as a source of strength for the collaboration. "Boundary" provides an apt metaphor for the journal as a boundary is necessarily shared by the parties it would separate.

Kroetsch composed many of his writings set on the Canadian Prairies while living in the United States. Yet, American experience does not make a significant appearance in his published works. That lacuna prompted the Munro Beattie Lecture series organizers to commission a talk by the author addressing that period of his career. The resulting lecture, "Becoming a Writer is Unbecoming: My 20 years in the U.S.A.," glosses the 17 years during which Kroetsch maintained a permanent address in Binghamton, New York (1961-78). The author focuses instead on shorter sojourns: in Vermont, Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina. Similarly, Kroetsch's The Crow Journals--first published as "Upstate New York Journals"--moves from New York to Manitoba, California, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Alberta. The major record of Kroetsch-as-Binghamtonite remains his archived correspondences, held in the Special Collections at the University of Calgary. Letters with Spanos testify to the acceleration of Kroetsch's theoretical education that occurred during his tenure as an editor of boundary 2 (1970-78). (1) The exchange documents the maddening minutiae of editorial tasks, but only for periods when one editor was away from Binghamton. While in Greece as a Fulbright professor and from France on sabbatical, Spanos sent airmail letters to Kroetsch in Binghamton. He also composed letters while vacationing in New Hampshire. Kroetsch wrote to Spanos from Binghamton, Lethbridge, Calgary, Winnipeg, Victoria, Sussex, and locations in Greece. In selecting from the exchanges, I indicate the sympathetic disjunction that characterizes their association as well as the range of moods their correspondence preserves--both men possess a facility for misery, elation, abandon, restraint, rage (Spanos more so), and mirth (predominantly Kroetsch).

After receiving graduate degrees from Middlebury College and the Iowa Writer's Workshop, Kroetsch found employment at Harpur College in 1961. Four years later, that institution incorporated within the State University of New York system. Kroetsch saw SUNY Binghamton become a hub for graduate studies in contemporary literature when it beat out the Buffalo and Stony Brook campuses for that specialization (27, 1.11.119). (2) Describing his adoptive city as "the rain-soaked non-centre of nowhere" (27, 1. …

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